Posts for: September, 2021
After months or even years of radiation or chemotherapy, the words "cancer-free" is music to your ears. Your joy and relief, though, may be tempered by the toll these treatments can take on the rest of your body—including your mouth.
Both of these treatments can destroy healthy tissue along with targeted cancer cells. If the focus has been on the head and neck regions, they could damage the salivary glands to the point that they won't produce adequate saliva flow.
A lack of saliva can have a detrimental effect on your oral health. Saliva buffers and helps lower oral acid levels that soften and erode enamel and increase the likelihood of tooth decay. Saliva also supplies antibodies that fight disease-causing bacteria. Otherwise, bacteria—and the risk for disease—can rapidly grow.
If these or other scenarios occur, you may experience dental damage, even tooth loss. Fortunately, we can restore an injured smile in various ways, including dentures, bridges or dental implants. But we should also attempt to limit the potential damage by taking steps to prevent dental disease during cancer treatment.
The most important of these is to brush and floss daily. Everyone should practice these hygiene tasks to remove disease-causing dental plaque, regardless of their health status. But because some natural disease-fighting mechanisms in the mouth may be disrupted during either radiation or chemotherapy, it's even more important if you're a cancer patient.
It's equally important to maintain as much as possible regular dental visits during cancer treatment. Dental cleanings provided during these visits remove any residual plaque and tartar (hardened plaque), which further lowers your disease risk.
Your dentist can better monitor your overall dental condition during frequent visits and provide as much treatment as you can tolerate. They can also enhance your protection against disease by prescribing antibacterial mouthrinses, fluoride applications or products to boost saliva production.
Some teeth and gum problems may be unavoidable; in that case, you may need post-treatment dental care to restore your oral health as needed. But caring as much for your dental health as you're able during cancer treatment could help you realize a better outcome.
It's normal to have occasional mouth dryness—that "cotton mouth" feeling when you first wake up or after eating a spicy meal. It soon dissipates, though, leaving you no worse for wear other than the memory of an unpleasant sensation.
For some, though, the unpleasant sensation becomes a chronic condition known as xerostomia, in which their mouth feels dry most of the time. And, it can have far-reaching consequences beyond a mere irritation if not treated.
Among the numerous causes for xerostomia, the most common appears to be over-the-counter and prescription medication. An estimated five hundred medications have dry mouth as a potential side-effect, from antihistamines to antidepressants. And because people over 65 are more likely to take medications, they also have a high occurrence of xerostomia.
A person with certain systemic diseases like Parkinson's Disease or undergoing radiation or chemotherapy for cancers of the head and neck may also encounter dry mouth. For example, an autoimmune disease called Sjögren's syndrome, primarily affecting postmenopausal women, can dry out the mouth's mucous membranes.
Chronic dry mouth isn't normal, and often a sign of a health problem that should be examined. And it can lead to more problems with your oral health. Because dry mouth is most likely a reduction in saliva, which helps buffer decay-causing acid and provides antibodies to fight bacteria, having less of this vital fluid can increase your risk for both tooth decay and gum disease.
So, what can you do if you're plagued by persistent dry mouth? If you suspect your medications may be a factor, talk with your doctor about whether one of them may be the underlying cause for your symptoms. You may be able to switch to an alternate medication without dry mouth side-effects.
You can also increase your water intake during the day, including drinking more before and after taking medication. And there are a number of products like the artificial sweetener xylitol found in gums and candies that can boost saliva. Your dentist may also be able to recommend products that increase saliva.
Above all, be sure you keep up daily brushing and flossing, as well as regular dental cleanings. Taking care of chronic dry mouth could help you avoid dental problems later.
If you would like more information on preventing and treating chronic dry mouth, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Dry Mouth.”
A wise sage once said the largest room in the world is the "room for improvement." Indeed, many modern advances would never have happened if someone hadn't first asked, "How can I make this better?"
Dentures and bridges are a case in point. Both of these tooth replacement methods have a long, successful track record in restoring functional, life-like teeth. But a recent development has made them even better: the incorporation of dental implants.
Most people associate implants, metallic posts imbedded in the jawbone, with single tooth replacements. But a few strategically placed implants can connect to and support a full removable denture (or overdenture). We can also use them to permanently affix a full or partial bridge without altering any remaining teeth as with a regular bridge.
There are two great benefits to using implants in this way. The most obvious is that they provide greater support for restorations than the traditional means for securing them in place. But there's also a less obvious benefit: They help sustain and improve bone health.
When you lose teeth, there's a high probability of bone loss. The bone is constantly forming new cells to replace older cells that have dissolved. The forces generated during chewing travel up through the teeth and help stimulate new bone growth. When teeth go missing, though, that stimulus disappears.
As a result, new cell formation can't keep up with the loss of older cells, causing the volume and density of jawbone to diminish over time. And this gradual bone loss continues to occur even with dentures or bridges, which can't replicate the chewing stimulus. Even worse, dentures irritating the bony ridges of the jaw may actually accelerate bone loss.
But the titanium in dental implants attracts bone cells, which readily grow and adhere to the implant surface. They can stop the progression of bone loss, or even help stimulate more growth. That bone growth benefit is also applicable when incorporated with dentures or bridges.
If you're looking at a denture or bridge restoration, consider implant support. It may even be possible to retrofit your existing dentures for implants. It could give you a more secure restoration and healthier bone.
If you would like more information on implant-supported dentures and bridges, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Overdentures & Fixed Dentures.”